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Summer camp teaches dance, theater on a farm

WYKOFF, Minn. -- Eva Barr sees similarities between the cycles on a farm and the process of creating art -- from a seed of an idea to harvest -- and sharing its results.

Flourish Summer Camp
Eva Barr (left) works with Anna Spencer-Berg, 10, Decorah, Iowa, during Flourish, a summer camp Barr started on her rural Wykoff farm. Spencer-Berg was creating a skit involving a death-defying circus.

WYKOFF, Minn. -- Eva Barr sees similarities between the cycles on a farm and the process of creating art -- from a seed of an idea to harvest -- and sharing its results.

Since 2003, she has opened her rural Wykoff farm to young people by organizing the Flourish Summer Camp in Arts and Agriculture. The campers take classes on dance, puppetry, music and theater, and each individual works on creating a piece that will be performed the last day of camp.

"They author their own piece, but they definitely give each other ideas," said Barr, a Minnesota native and a founder of Lookingglass Theatre Company in Chicago. "As a theater artist, I'm interested in encouraging communication, especially for young people, in innovative ways to let the truth sort of ring out in a new way, someone's personal truth that's important to them in that moment. I feel there's not enough opportunities for people to share their stories and ideas in this increasingly technological world. There's also not a lot of opportunities for people to get out of the city."

Campers may recruit each other for their performances. They're put in a small group and paired with a mentor, who works with them one-on-one. Mentors, artists mostly from Minneapolis or St. Paul, also lead the technique classes.

This is the first year Barr has offered an adult session of Flourish, and she said it was a hit. It's also the first year she's split her regular summer camp into two one-week sessions, separated by age group, each with 10 to 12 campers. The camps are open to young people 10 to 17 years old.

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Recently, 10- to 12-year-olds from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois were attending Flourish. Their projects had a variety of topics: The four elements, a shadow puppet routine about someone giving a lecture on mysterious creatures who is attacked by a monster, a skit about a death-defying circus where everyone except one person dies to bring the others back to life, and a guitar and vocal performance of the Beatles song "Yesterday", accompanied by dancers, as an interpretation of looking at the color purple.

Barr enjoys giving campers the chance to get out of the city.

Her farm, DreamAcres, is a 60-acre operation with 7 acres of hay ground and more than an acre of vegetables. The garden supplies 30 families through Community Supported Agriculture. DreamAcres is not a certified organic operation, but Barr refers to it as certifiably organic. They don't use chemicals and work the ground with their ox and four horses. She lives there with her partner, Todd Juzwiak, and two sons, Chester, 11, who attended camp for the first time this year, and Stanley, 8.

Flourish participants do farm activities daily. They work in the garden by cultivating, weeding and harvesting. They learn to identify plants and seeds.

"Just pulling things out of the dirt is magic," Barr said. "Many of them have never spent any time on a farm and certainly never harvested their own vegetables. It's pretty eye-opening."

The food is the first thing she hears visitors make comments about. Guests are also made aware that the farm is off the power grid. Food is cooked in a wood-fired oven, and electricity in all the buildings is generated through solar power. The toilets flush with rainwater, and solar energy heats water for showers.

"People say they've never felt more healthy in their lives," she said. "The fresh air, the space. They feel peaceful here, they leave the city behind."

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